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During the industrial era, nature and technology were strong protagonists. But what if in the 21st century we are able to change this status-quo and make nature our next tech innovation hub on a mission to save the planet. Herve Dupied from Netherlands, environment initiatives manager from Patagonia, was speaking about this at Emerge conference Future stream.
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Patagonia is a textile company which might seem quite a strange speaker at a tech conference. But there are some points that would nourish future thinking. Herve walked 7500 km through Latin America back in 2015. And it could be described in one word as “suffering but good suffering”. He transitioned from mechanical engineer in the past to environmentalist present day. There is a huge gap between these two professions. But Herve’s experience shows that you could move from applying a lot of technology to thinking to the use of intuition. And this intuition helps to learn about the state of our world. The future that lies in front of us is full of challenges. But technology and innovation could help us save nature and our world.
Yvonne Trina is the founder and still the sole owner of Patagonia. He used to be a mountain climber back in the 50s. Mountain climbing is also a way to get connected to nature. And all his life, Yvonne was an innovative person. But he has always reflected on the innovations he was bringing into his work. When someone is climbing the mountain he is actually damaging it using pitons which help to climb. So the human footprints are actually damaging nature. That was a tipping point for Yvonne to think about innovations in his own company. Back in the 60s he was climbing in the Patagonia region where the weather conditions were changing extremely fast. And there was no technical gear to cope with these extreme conditions, especially clothes. So he founded Patagonia — the outdoor clothing brand. The core of Patagonia’s products is quality which is put above everything else. Sometimes even above environmental issues. Because quality is a matter of life and death when you are in extreme conditions.
The products Patagonia builds are destroying nature at a very large scale. And companies have to reflect on that. The choice is really simple: either to fight for all forms of living or contribute to extinction of all forms of living, humans included. That’s why the mission statement of Patagonia is very simple: “We’re in business to save our home planet”. That might seem a bit contradictory for business to save our home planet. Because our entire society has put such a wall between rationality and the reason to save the planet.
What Patagonia is doing is taxing themselves. They do recognize the negative impact that they have on nature through the innovative product that will be on the market. So they founded the initiative called 1% for the planet. And they are giving back 1% of their turnover to environmental NGOs. Those NGOs are not only activists that are protesting in the streets. But activism could have very different forms in which you don’t have to confront the police but go to court. One of the up-to-date examples is Dutch NGO that has sued Dutch government for climate inaction. And they actually won. Now this NGO with very limited resources and very innovative processes has put the law on their side to constraint a huge state. The Dutch government now is to comply with the 1.5 degree Paris agreement. So there are many ways to be innovative. And also there are many ways to be an activist.
Still for the majority of us there is still no hope. It could be represented by a very small white dot on the very black screen. The future still looks so doomed that it’s very hard to see the hope. And the environmental crisis we are facing is a human crisis after all. We might have built such a world where we have just a few years left to fight for saving our home planet. And that’s the reason why Patagonia decided to be even more innovative. They are repurposing technology to save and serve not only human to human world but also what they call the natural world. By the way, we, as humans, are a part of it.
As a brand they identified four strategic topics that they are involved in. These topics are footprint, wild species, agricultural transition and energy transition.
There are a lot of talks about carbon neutrality. That’s a technical topic where you need to be innovative. In Patagonia they take care of the emissions by their facilities and offices. But they go deep into their supply chain and try to be carbon neutral not only by themselves but also by all their partners all over the world. And carbon neutrality starts with reducing as much as possible carbon footprint. That’s why the first task is to scope and analyze where the carbon footprint is. This involves a lot of technology. The next step is to be smart and apply the technology to contribute positively to the current crisis. Solar panels are one of the most current and best solutions.
There is Tongass National Park in Alaska. That National park is under threat by the Trump administration because they want to open it for logging. The only thing Patagonia wants to do there is to protect that space. They don’t need to invent any new technology to do that. Because that space holds together the entire ecosystem where the river is playing a role. The salmon is going into that river to spawn (so called “salmon run”). After the spawn they are dying in the river and that brings nutrients to the forests around the river. And those forests are capturing carbon. So it’s a very complex ecosystem which is a beautiful example of how non-linear nature is working and how circular it is. The protection of this ecosystem saves not only nature per se but also about 30 communities that are living on those lands. By protecting this nature Patagonia protects people and also protects the planet.
The third topic is regenerative organic agriculture. Organic agriculture is not using any synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. Regenerative organic goes even deeper. That kind of agriculture regenerates ecosystems and especially regenerates soil. Soil is at the base of every form of living on this planet. It is feeding us. It allows us to capture carbon. Also it allows us to have forests and so on and so forth. Conventional agriculture and monoculture has destroyed a lot of topsoil. So cultivating soil is as important as cultivating crops. By cultivating rich soil with a lot of nutrients we could grow better food. That is nourishing human beings also. When you better understand how nature is working and how soil is the beautiful carbon tank you start understanding that we don’t always need to reinvent the wheel and bring our innovations in this world. Nature itself is much more complex technology than any technology humans have invented so far. The “natural technology” evolved for millions of years. The humans are here in a civilised way for only a couple of thousands years. We have still much to learn as human beings. And nature should be the inspiration for us.
Energy transition is much about human relationships. We could use solar panels to get the energy of the Sun. But more important is to bring people together to cultivate local “human soil” because communities are important. While the communities were looking to solve the environmental crisis they were also looking for a solution to the human crisis. Capitalism and western culture have enclosed us into an individual state of mind. When we’re trying to face those big problems we will never find any solution. We have not only to find the solutions but DESIGN those solutions in an innovative way. Instead of asking “what can I do?” we should ask “what can we do?” and look for the community to share our energy and innovative minds. Intuition allows us to understand way better than reason very complex problems. But also it feeds us with inner power and inner energy. Because we have to be not only human beings but human beings. And we should design technological and innovative solutions to save but not to destroy all forms of living on our planet.